Love of the game propels Shinnick’s journey to success
By Kimberlee Stepp, Contributing Writer
June 30, 2011
|Photo by Nick Faulkner
|UNCP head football coach Pete Shinnick and the Braves will play a Division II opponent every week in 2011, a first for the program.
UNC Pembroke’s football coach, Peter Shinnick, has been around football his entire life, watching his father coach in the NFL, playing in high school and college and coaching for more than 25 years.
Shinnick is a man who has learned from his father’s experience, learned from mentors and, more importantly, learned from his own experience, starting off at the bottom and working his way up.
Peter Landon Shinnick was born in Baltimore, Md., in 1965, at the tail end of his father’s career with the Baltimore Colts. His father, Don Shinnick, played linebacker in the National Football League (NFL) for the Colts for 13 seasons from 1957 to 1969 and had 37 career interceptions. Don Shinnick played alongside football legend Johnny Unitas, during his career in Baltimore.
After retiring, Shinnick pursued a coaching career, where he was assistant coach for the Chicago Bears, St. Louis Rams, Oakland Raiders and the New England Patriots.
Growing up with football
While many celebrity's children grow up conditioned to a lifestyle of no privacy, growing up with a football legend and coach as a father, Shinnick had a child hood that many sports fans would envy. He was surrounded by the game of football.
Shinnick said that his childhood was simply amazing. He was either playing football outside with his brothers or playing catch with one of his father’s famous players.
“Kids were saying, ‘Hey look I got Ken Stabler’s autograph.’ I was saying, ‘Hey I was just playing catch with him!’ Or my four brothers and I would play football in the backyard pretending to be whatever team my dad was coaching at the time,” he said.
Although Shinnick started off playing in the backyard with his siblings, the first time he was actually able to play on a team was not until his sophomore year in high school.
“My dad didn't want me to start playing until I was strong and healthy, so I didn't play until my second year in high school,” he said.
After high school, Shinnick attended Colorado University for four years where he lettered for two years as an offensive guard. While at Colorado, he played in 21 games, including the Freedom Bowl in 1985 and the Bluebonnet Bowl the following year.
Shinnick graduated from Colorado University in 1988 with a bachelor's degree in business.
“I have great memories from playing in college, he said.” “My greatest playing memory was when Nebraska was number three at the time, and we beat them at home 20-10. To see a group of guys believing in what they could do is one of my favorite playing memories.”
Three of Shinnick's brothers also had football careers while in college. His brother Josh played for the University of California at Los Angeles, Adam played for Penn State University, and Chris played for the University of Hawaii. His brother Josh played in three Rose Bowl games.
The last two years of college, Shinnick was faced with a difficult decision. The decision that many face while in college: What am I going to for the rest of my life?
Shinnick played football at Colorado for two years and during his last two years of college, for the first time in years, he was not playing football. He missed the game.
“Football has always been a part of what I have done. I've always been around it. When I realized that I wanted to coach football, I was a senior in college working as an intern for a marketing department. I had played high school and college football, and always been around the game. This was the first time I wasn’t really around the game. I just couldn’t see myself doing sales and marketing for the rest of my life. I missed football,” he said.
While pondering his tough decision, he felt no pressure from his father or his father's reputation to follow in his footsteps. However, Shinnick did share his father’s passion for football. He simply loved the game and wanted to do his best. Shinnick finally came to a decision and chose to pursue a coaching career in football.
“My dad always told me: 'Whatever you do, I want you to do your best.' My dad did a great job of taking that pressure off. His advice on coaching was to do the best you can and have fun,” he said.
Taking advice from his father and listening to his own instincts, Shinnick began his coaching career as an offensive line coach under Dal Shealy for the University of Richmond. According to UNCP's athletic department faculty profile, while Shinnick was at Richmond, running backs for the Richmond Spiders “tallied five 100-yard games behind an ever-improving offensive line.”
After Richmond, Shinnick became a graduate assistant and defensive line coach for the University of Arkansas, under head coach Ken Hatfield, in 1989.
After a 10-2 season with Arkansas, Shinnick followed Hatfield to Clemson University as a graduate assistant while pursuing his master’s degree in guidance and counseling and learned even more about coaching.
“Being a graduate assistant isn’t easy work. You do everyone’s junk work, but I grew tremendously as a coach in that time. Learning from the ground up and working your way through the system is the best way to learn how to do your job,” he said.
“My experience at Clemson was great. I loved Ken Hatfield, I learned a lot. and we won the ACC Championship. Winning the ACC championship is one of my favorite memories and greatest coaching experiences,” he said.
While Shinnick was at Clemson with Hatfield, the Tigers were ranked No. 9 in 1990 and No. 17 in 1991. Clemson also made it to two bowl games during that time: The Hall of Fame Bowl in 1990 destroying Illinois University 30-0 but lost to California in the Citrus Bowl in 1991.
Shinnick was about to start down a new path in his coaching career.
When Ken Hatfield left Clemson, Shinnick did not follow. Instead, he went to Oregon State University in 1992 and took a recruiting coordinator position.
“As recruiting coordinator for Oregon State I did not coach on the field, and it was very different, but it gave me a lot of experience and a great background for coaching. I learned a lot about the administration part of coaching,” he said.
Only after two years as a recruiting coordinator, Shinnick helped Oregon State's recruiting class become nationally ranked, for the first time.
After two years with Oregon State, Shinnick went to Northern Michigan as an offensive line coach. He then went to St. Cloud Minnesota and was an offensive coordinator for three seasons.
In 1998, Shinnick left St. Cloud and went to Homboldt State in northern California. A year later he finally got his first head coaching position with Azusa Pacifica; he stayed there for seven years.
While at Azusa Pacific, Shinnick led the Cougars to a 53-22 record, and made it to two semi-finals in 1999 and 2004.
According to Shinnick's faculty profile, “a total of 77 school records were established under his watch at APU, with the Cougars appearing in 48 consecutive National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) top 25 rankings during his last four seasons and 75 of 86 listings” during his seven year career with Azusa Pacific.
While Shinnick did well at Azusa Pacific, he did not know what was lurking around the corner,and embarked on another journey ultimately leading him to his current coaching position at UNC Pembroke.
In 2005, while visiting family in South Carolina, Shinnick was browsing the Internet and found a job opening for a head coaching position at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
“I was visiting my wife’s family in South Carolina, and I saw on the internet that UNC-P was going to start playing football and needed a coach. I thought it would be interesting, started doing research and it all came together,” he said.
Coaching the Braves
The first season with the Braves proved to be a slow and trying season for both Shinnick and his young players.
“The first season was difficult because there were so many young guys playing and a lack of experience. It was a tremendous learning experience for us all and a very hard season. We only won four games that season,” he said.
Shinnick had a great coaching record and quite a bit of experience coming to UNC Pembroke and, instead of losing hope, he learned from the losses and made his team better.
“If your team plays well and loses to a better team, you can live with that. If your team loses to a team that is the same or not as good, that is what’s frustrating. You prepare for six days, for three hours. You train 354 days out of the year and play 11 games. We work all year long for the wins,” he said
Though the Braves only won four games in their first season, Shinnick was determined to turn the program around. With a lot of patience, hard work and ambition, Shinnick was able to pull his team through.
“It was natural progression for what I wanted to do. Just another step in the journey you take in the coaching profession,” he said.
Shinnick helped the Braves turn around the next season to a 5-1/2 improvement from the previous season. That same year, Shinnick was named the NCAA Independents Coach of the Year by both D2Football.com and the Independents Collegiate Athletic Association (ICAA).
In 2009, the Braves won nine games while also becoming the youngest football program to qualify for the NCAA Division II Playoffs. The Braves ranked number 10 in a top 25 poll by the American Football Coaches Association in November 2009.
“In the 2009 season, we had the fastest third year program in NCAA history to make the playoffs. This is my greatest achievement in coaching,” he said.
Shinnick also said that coaches should always enjoy the moments and congratulate the team when it comes to winning, otherwise, it is just not fun anymore.
You have to enjoy the wins. If you don't enjoy the victories, then it will be a very long process for you,” he said.
Though Shinnick has a very demanding job with little down time, he always manages to make time for the community.
Shinnick is very involved in the athletic community serving on several American Football Coaches Associates committees, including the Rules and Ethics committee. He has been a member of AFCA for 20 years and is involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA).
As well as community involvement, Shinnick is also a devoted husband and father.
Shinnick and his wife Traci have four children, Anna, Rachel, Elijah and Benjamin and currently live in Lumberton, N.C.
Shinnick has had an interesting journey, starting off playing football in the back yard to coaching nationally ranked college teams.
Love of the game
Shinnick reflected on his coaching experiences and said in order to be a successful coach you have to work long hours, and have a genuine love of the game.
“You need to love the game and the opportunities that the game affords you. You work too many hours and don’t get paid enough not to love what you are doing. We work seven days a week from August till December, then you start hitting the road recruiting and spend countless hours on the road visiting players and high schools. Then it is time for spring ball,” he said.
Though coaches must have formidable determination, they should also know that the title of Coach is earned, not simply given.
“Leaders are made. Even if you are born with certain qualities and characteristics, you still must develop them to be a leader,” he said.